23.6.24

JOHNNY ROGAN - In Remembrance

Yesterday, at St Declan's cemetery in Tramore on the southeast coast of Ireland, I stood in quiet contemplation by the grave of my great friend Johnny Rogan, the music writer who was my role model for almost 40 years.

        Tramore, a pleasant seaside town with a population 11,000, lies 12 kilometres west of Waterford from where Johnny's parents emigrated to London in the 1940s. Johnny owned a small house on a steep hill in the old part of the town, now unoccupied, and a few minutes drive away is the home of his former partner Jackie who tends his grave weekly, trimming the grass that grows around the headstone that bears his name. At its base is a line from a poem by Edmund Spencer, whose Faerie Queene was the subject of Johnny's MA dissertation: "Where, whenas death shall all the world subdue, Our love shall live, and later life renew." It was chosen by Jackie's uncle Sean who gave the eulogy at Johnny's funeral at the Holy Cross RC Church in Tramore shortly after his death in February of 2021. 

        From beginning to end ours was a master-pupil relationship. Johnny was a literary scholar, university trained. I left school at 17 with five O-levels and, apart from a two-year course in the tradecraft of journalism at Bradford Tech, had picked up all I knew on the job. I had much to learn and in Johnny had found the perfect teacher, schooled not only in the art of literacy but in how to adapt this skill to writing and editing books about our shared love, rock'n'roll music. In view of how out futures would pan out, it was the ideal match.  

        We met for the first time in Paddington, December 1982, at a Christmas party thrown by Proteus, a publisher for whom we had both written books, Johnny on Neil Young, me on Pete Townshend. It was held in a nondescript church hall just off Praed Street, close to Proteus' offices, and though I cannot remember who introduced us, I can recall quite clearly that after the introduction we didn't much talk to anyone else at the party, and that when it looked like the free booze was running out we headed to the nearest pub together and carried on talking until closing time. It's quite likely I was a bit sloshed when I headed for home that night, thus establishing from the very start a pattern that would become a key aspect of our friendship.

        Proteus Books went bust a couple of years later and Johnny and I sat next to one another at a creditors' meeting in a hotel on The Aldwych. Both of us were owed money by the company and we took pleasure in watching its managing director, on a podium at the front, squirm as a bankruptcy accountant read out a damning indictment of mismanagement. Both us were highly amused when the Irish photographer Finn Costello, another creditor, stood up and swore loudly at that MD, calling him a "fucking cunt", as I recall. Many in the room, us amongst them, cheered loudly when Finn upped and left the gathering, his parting words, "I have to leave now. There's a nasty smell in this room and its coming from the podium."

        Soon after this I became the editor at Omnibus Press and acquired the rights to the first of three books by Johnny that Omnibus would publish. Johnny's title was Wham: The Death of a Supergroup but with his approval we opted to retitle it Wham Confidential which we felt had more immediacy. It was, of course, the story of the duo formed by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, perhaps not the most obvious subject for an author of Johnny's background, but this was no hagiography aimed at the teenage girls who screamed at George and Andrew, more an investigation into the music industry levers that were pulled to make Wham what they were and the strains that tore them apart. It was only 160 pages, quite short by the standards that Johnny would set in the future, but it was the first indication to me that in him I had found an author of unusual precision who wrote about music and musicians with great clarity and insight. I'd already formed a high opinion of Johnny's skills when I read his Proteus Neil Young book and now, running Omnibus, I was in a position to take full advantage of them.

        Johnny had delivered the manuscript for his Wham book in the manner of students submitting a thesis: several sheets of A4 paper typed in double spacing and bound together in a folder with the title and author's name in bold lettering on the front. Although in the 1990s computers would preclude the need for typed manuscripts from which books would be typeset, in 33 years at Omnibus, during which I commissioned and/or edited over 800 rock books, no other author ever delivered his work in such a professional way. 

        The Wham book sold respectably but wasn't what I could call a commercial success. I suppose we should have realised that Wham fans were unlikely to want to read a serious book about them, and those readers who liked serious music books weren't interested in Wham. It slipped between two stools. The lesson we learned, however, was put to good use in Johnny's next book, Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance, which soon became the best-selling book that Omnibus had ever published. It was controversial too, vexing Morrissey who described it as “all lies” and famously commented: “I hope Johnny Rogan ends his days very soon in an M3 pile-up or a hotel fire,” a quote we gleefully included on the cover of future editions. 

        Johnny delivered his manuscript for The Severed Alliance in the same manner as he'd delivered the Wham book, but he was a few weeks late. When it became clear to him that he wouldn't deliver on time he asked for a meeting with me and our sales director Frank Warren. At that meeting he offered to return the advance, producing from his pocket a signed cheque made out to Music Sales for the amount. Frank tore it up. I was astonished. In all those 33 years I helmed Omnibus' editorial department, no other author ever volunteered to return their advance when they were late delivering, as almost all invariably were. This cemented my admiration for Johnny. Not only was he immensely skilled in his chosen field, he was honourable too. 

        It's no exaggeration to say that the success of The Severed Alliance changed the editorial agenda at Omnibus. Before its arrival we had concentrated largely on large format illustrated books with less concern paid to the text. From now on we would gradually publish more and more text-led titles and fewer books dominated by photography. (The only book Omnibus ever published on my watch whose sales matched Johnny's Smiths book was Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher, another author who became, and still is, a close friend. As it happened Tony would write a Smiths book himself, A Light That Never Goes Out. Far from being displeased by the competition, at a lunch I organised for the three of us, Johnny offered to help Tony in any way he could.)

        By this time Johnny and I had become drinking buddies, working hard - we indexed books together, he and I devised an Omnibus style guide and I often consulted him on editorial issues - and playing hard. We usually caroused around Soho and though most of these pub crawls are lost to memory, I can vividly recall the evening I introduced him to the US music writer Timothy White, now also sadly passed. The three of us wound up in a nightclub owned by David Arden, son of Don, brother of Sharon, whom Johnny knew as a result of his investigations into rock band management. The waitresses - I think they were referred to as hostesses in this establishment - were very beautiful and unusually friendly towards us but we were all far too drunk - David kept bring us free bottles of champagne - to take advantage of the situation.

        Omnibus Press was a big fish in a small pond as far as rock books were concerned, but a small fish in a big pond when it came to publishing at large. As Johnny's reputation grew as a result of his Smiths book, it was inevitable that he would seek out mainstream publishers that could pay far bigger advances than Omnibus could offer. We only did one more book together, on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but whenever I went on holiday Johnny deputised for me, and he invariably attended our quarterly editorial meetings at which decisions were made on which books to publish and which to pass on. He had become my staunchest ally.

        When Johnny launched his own publishing, Rogan House, it was to Omnibus Press and its parent company Music Sales that he turned for marketing, warehousing and distribution, or fulfilment as it is known in the trade. This strengthened our ties and our friendship. Along the way I had, of course, became aware of Johnny's reputation as a rather mysterious, even remote, figure in the world of rock books, a trait he encouraged as his renown grew. In truth, he was amongst the most sociable men I ever knew and I came to suspect that this was a mischievous ploy on his part, a way of ensuring his privacy while at the same time creating an enigmatic persona that suited his way of life.

        Details of all the many other books that Johnny wrote can be found in the more formal obituary I wrote for the Guardian newspaper, a longer version of which appears on this blog here: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2021/02/johnny-rogan-1953-2021.html

        Johnny's unexpected and sudden death from a brain haemorrhage came as a great shock to me, as it did to all who knew him, and because it occurred during Covid I was unable to attend the funeral in Tramore. I watched the service on my computer by means of a video link up and vowed that when the time was right I'd come to Tramore myself to pay my respects at Johnny's last resting place, as I did yesterday.

        I grew misty eyed as I stood before Johnny's gravestone and felt the need to turn away to face the wind that blew towards me from the sea. Then I dried my eyes and my wife Lisa took the photo that appears above. I will always miss him. 




12.6.24

FAWLTY TOWERS - THE PLAY

The old adage that we prefer the familiar was never more apparent to me than last night when I watched the stage production of John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. The audience, most of whom seemed of an age that first laughed at Basil between 1975 and 1979 when the TV show was originally broadcast, knew what was coming and were primed to laugh at all the right moments: Sybil on the warpath, Basil losing the plot, Mrs Richards’ deafness, Manuel’s shaky grasp of English, the talking moose, ‘Don’t mention the war’ and, most of all, the layer upon layer of confusion and misunderstanding that made Fawlty Towers a superlative farce. And it’s all been recreated to perfection.

        Now much is new, however. This stage production, overseen by Cleese but directed by Caroline Jay Ranger, seamlessly blends together three of the original half-hour sitcoms – The Hotel Inspector, Communication Problems and The Germans – into one 90-minute plus play that here and there has echoes from the other nine episodes in the series. At times there were even hints of Python’s silly walk and, when Basil yells ‘Polly’ at the long-suffering waitress played originally by his wife Connie Booth, I was reminded of Cleese in the pet shop where Michael Palin sold him a dead parrot. 

        Don’t mend anything that isn’t broken seems to have been the production’s prime concern, so the cast are mimics as much as actors. Adam Jackson-Smith is Basil, as ungainly and awkward as Basil/Cleese, a tall, thin man, with long legs who manages to contort himself into pretzels, agonising over a faux-pas, getting the wrong end of the stick and abusing Spanish waiter Manuel and his guests alike. Anna-Jane Casey is just as effective as Sybil, beehive in place, the clothes just right, ditto her shrill accent, especially on the phone to the unseen Audrey – ‘I know’ – or when berating her hapless husband. There were times when I thought Victoria Fox’s Polly really was the young Connie Booth, at least in the way she spoke, and Hemi Yeroham pitched Manuel just right, not quite as dumb as we might think. When he said ‘I know nothing’ the place erupted. The major’s bigoted dialogue has been softened, no doubt to acquiesce with 21st Century PC sensibilities, but he still hasn’t found the wallet that was nicked by ‘the woman he once knew’.

        Although there is a 20-minute interval, the three episodes overlap smoothly and some additional dialogue has been inserted to assist continuity. The action is fast-paced, with lines traded like ricochet fire at moments of high farce and it doesn’t pay to drift off. At the climax the whole house of cards tumbles into a riot of confusion as the fire alarm brings everyone – all the cast, including the two old ladies, the major brandishing a gun and the three hotel inspectors – to the dance, every one of them bewildered, bemused or furious at Fawlty Towers’ wretched proprietor.

        Though I knew almost all the jokes, I still laughed, as did my whole family, not least daughter Olivia visiting this week from the US. I can remember when, aged about 10, she used to watch our Fawlty Towers video box set in our house in London on rotation, memorising the dialogue to the extent that her and a couple of friends from her primary school actually staged an ad-hoc FT play of their own in our house. We shot a video of that and this weekend I’m going to seek it out and watch it again. Whatever weirdness has overtaken John Cleese in recent years, Fawlty Towers remains a comedy masterpiece, fun for all ages as the billboards used to say.


3.6.24

SHA NA NA, Carnegie Hall, June 1974

Like many others I had a weak spot for Sha Na Na, the tongue-in-cheek American golden oldies troupe that was a surprise hit at Woodstock. I first saw them at London’s Speakeasy in the summer of 1971, and at the Reading Festival the same week, and on that visit to the UK I interviewed them too, or tried to as they acted in character on and off stage. Keith Moon was a big fan, of course. Wearing a gold lame suit, Keith introduced them on stage that year at the Carnegie Hall in New York. He did the same thing at the Crystal Palace Bowl the following year, a show that was headlined by The Beach Boys. 

I was at a Sha Na show at the Carnegie Hall 50 years ago last weekend, and here’s what I wrote on Melody Maker’s Caught In The Act page. 


Sha Na Na were reviving rock and roll long before anyone else, and long before the current wave of nostalgia swept down on both sides of the Atlantic. Last week they played a couple of shows at Carnegie Hall, and despite the familiarity of their act they proved they are the best at this particular form of rock entertainment.

They were handicapped, though. Bowser, the tall skinny guy with the deep bass voice, was unable to appear apart from a walk-on part as a dance hall MC. For my money, he’s always been the star of Sha Na Na’s show, a singularly ugly young man blessed with a remarkable voice that blends naturally into what the group are trying to put over.

As a result, they were down to nine men, not a small complement for a rock band by any means, but they nevertheless sounded thinner than usual. Instrumentation was kept at a minimum and they relied totally on the harmony vocals to carry them along. Last month their guitarist, Vinnie Taylor, died but his replacement, Elliott Randall*, acquitted himself well within the limited range that guitaring for Sha Na Na offers.

Bearing in mind these setbacks, the band whipped up enormous excitement among the New Yorkers who were surprisingly young. I’d expected a Carnegie Hal full of greasers from the West Side but Sha Na Na’s fans seems to be mainly teenagers. There wasn’t a motor cycle to be seen on 57th Street, and the only leather jackets had buttons instead of zips. 

The show opened with the familiar Sha Na Na routines acting out the ’Fifties oldies that are now almost as synonymous with Sha Na Na as the versions by the original artists. Then they “hit the street”, changing clothes for another bunch of oldies. This time the stage props included trash cans, gas lamps and traffic lights.

This was followed by the dance contest, compared by the hitherto absent Bowser who received an enormous cheer as he walked on and explained that his doctor had prevented him from singing and dancing because he had a partially collapsed lung. He then intimated that he’d threatened his doctor with a chain, which resulted in his belated appearance this evening.

Three of the band picked partners from the audience for the contest which was played mainly for laughs. The winning girl’s prize was an opportunity to dance with fat horn player Lenny – “The Sensuous King Of Rock And Roll”.

The show closed with the back curtains pulled back to reveal a small orchestra – brass and strings – all dressed in their vests. Mostly they were drowned out by the vocals and yelling from the audience, and as usual the group paraded back for a total of four encores. A good evening’s fun. 

* Trivia note: Elliott Randall played the well-known guitar solo on Steely Dan’s ‘Reelin’ In the Years’. 


24.5.24

MY MAMA, CASS: A MEMOIR by Owen Elliot-Kugell

Shamefully, the death in London of ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot on July 29, 1974, made just a few short paragraphs on page five of the following week’s Melody Maker. She’d just completed a series of concerts at the Palladium near Oxford Circus, the opening night of which MM’s reviewer described as ‘dreadful… a totally depressing evening out’. The heart attack that felled her was misreported as ‘choking on a ham sandwich’, her manager’s idea of a more fitting end to a woman whose generous physique played a macabre role in her too short life.

All of which paints a rather gloomy picture of Cass Elliot but in the almost 50 years since her death she has achieved redemption, of sorts. It’s now acknowledged that Cass, Ellen Naomi Cohen to her family, possessed a fine vocal range and that without her The Mamas and The Papas, the quartet that catapulted her to fame in 1965, wouldn’t have been half as successful had not John Phillips invited her to join the group, albeit reluctantly in light of her appearance. Furthermore, she was a key social networker amongst the musicians that resided in the canyons of Los Angeles in the mid-sixties, instrumental in making introductions that resulted in significant partnerships, most notably John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky who became The Lovin’ Spoonful, and bringing Graham Nash to the attention of David Crosby and Stephen Stills. 

Owen Elliot-Kugell is Cass Elliot’s daughter, an only child. Born in 1967, she last saw her mother leaving JFK airport for that fateful trip to the UK in 1974 and thereafter was raised by her aunt Leah, Cass’s younger sister, and her husband Russ Kunkel, whose CV as a session drummer reads like a list of inductees at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. On hand too as a sort of proxy mother throughout her early years and beyond was Michelle Phillips, now the only surviving member of the Ms&Ps, and it was Michelle who helped trace her father, a bass player called Chuck Day, whose identity was a mystery until the 1980s.

Elliot-Kugell has written an affectionate memoir that does its best to further that redemption but try as she might it’s hard to shake off the feeling that her mother’s greatest moments were with the group she left behind. Albums released before and after the group somehow failed to sell in any appreciable quantity, which Elliot-Kugell invariably blames on ‘poor promotion and marketing’ and there’s a general feeling that Cass never really reached her potential. There were ill-advised career moves, a disastrous appearance in Las Vegas and poor health, attributed to efforts to lose weight, was an issue that never went away. When Cass died she was broke and though her debts were eventually paid off, it wasn’t until the CD era that her estate became solvent.  

It’s a sad story. The first half of the book offers up plenty of family background, followed by the rise and fall of the Ms&Ps and Cass’s subsequent solo career, the information gathered largely from Elliot-Kugell’s talks with many of those who knew and admired her mother. The second half dwells on the author’s childhood and life thereafter, which has had its ups and downs. Included are details of her friendship with the children of other LA musicians, among them Carnie and Wendy, daughters of Brian Wilson, and Chynna, daughter of Michelle and John Phillips, who formed the successful ’90s trio Wilson Phillips. Elliot-Kugell, a singer herself, was unfortunate not to have joined them. She also lays to rest the canard about the ham sandwich – the story was concocted by Cass’s manager to allay speculation that hers was another death from a drug overdose, and in 2000 Elliot-Kugell actually met the journalist who first reported it. “It had been for the protection of my mother’s name and legacy,” she writes. 

Like other children of musicians who’ve passed Elliot-Kugell has found herself accepting awards on behalf of her mother. She was there alongside John, Denny and Michelle when the Ms&Ps were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and in the eight-page photo section there’s a picture of her alongside John Sebastian, Stephen Stills and Michelle when her mum’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star was unveiled in 2022. The book has 262 pages, is set in rather large type and lacks an index. 

        Finally, excuse me while I have a rant. 

        As those familiar with Just Backdated may know, in 2017, through a literary agent, I tried to get a publishing deal for a memoir by Amanda De Wolf, the daughter of Keith Moon, that would have been co-written by myself. It didn’t happen. I was told by numerous publishers that because Mandy last saw her father in 1975 (when she was 12), she ‘didn't know him well enough’ or ‘didn’t spend enough time with him’ to write a book that was substantial enough for publication. In the end I gave up but two years later, with Mandy’s permission, I posted my proposal for the book on this blog*. It has now had 36.6k hits, the second highest number of hits of all the 1,000+ posts on Just Backdated. Many of those who read it, among them no doubt Who fans galore, expressed amazement that the book was never published, which suggests there was a market for it. 

        Owen Elliot-Kugell last saw her mother Cass Elliot when she was seven, and was unaware of the identity of her father until she was 19. With respect to Elliot-Kugell, for all sorts of reasons Keith Moon was far more celebrated than her mother and Mandy’s story, which as well as featuring a father who was rock’s craziest hedonist, involved her overcoming alcoholism, two divorces and a degree of angst with regard to the behaviour Ian McLagan, her mother’s second husband. To my mind, it was at least as worthy of publication as this book. 

        All of the above is not meant as a criticism of My Mama, Cass, merely an observation about the quirks of the publishing world, of which I was once a part. And although it’s unmentioned, there is a morbid Keith Moon connection: the Mayfair apartment where Cass Elliot died in 1974 was the same one where Keith would die four years later. Rant over. 


*https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html. For personal reasons, Mandy no longer wishes to pursue the book. 


17.5.24

BACK TO BLACK

After her passing, the most regrettable aspect of Amy Winehouse’s life and career is the paucity of recorded material she left behind. All we have to savour are two studio albums, Frank and Back To Black, and a Hidden Treasures CD that collects most of the odds and sods. All three are alongside me as I type this and, counting up, there are but 38 tracks in total. I wish there was more. 

        That the world lost an enormous talent when Amy overdid the vodka in July, 2011, is made abundantly clear in Back To Black, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sympathetic biopic, titled after her Grammy winning second LP which has been cited as the most important pop record of the century thus far. In terms of grit, taking control and revealing personal issues in song, it’s magnificent and I wonder whether we’d have had an Adele or Taylor Swift without it. 

        I watched the movie last night in the luxurious Light Cinema at Addlestone. Somehow, the Light’s huge, comfortable seats, spaced well apart, and first-class lounge ambience add an extra star to any movie and this one, unfairly disparaged as pedestrian by many critics in my opinion, deserves four or five, not least for the bravura performance of Marisa Abela as the doomed singer, secure in her own talent yet crossed in love by the roguish Blake Fielder-Civil, played by Jack O’Connell, who leads her into temptation. It’s a tragedy, of course, albeit it one enlivened by fabulous music scenes that lead to a scenario that we know in advance will end in tears.

        The film opens warmly, with Amy as a budding star in a family singsong, its purpose to impose the belief that music runs in her veins, inherited from her practical, taxi-driving dad Mitch, played by Eddie Marsan, and her vivacious, supportive nan Cynthia, to whom she is especially close and who once sang professionally, played by Lesley Manville. The song Amy sings, in which she is joined by her dad, is ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra but also by Tony Bennett, and it serves to stress how music from the swing era, not rock or even soul, informs Amy’s musical background and imagination. 

        Thereafter the film closely follows the trajectory of Amy’s career. We see her composing with a guitar on her bed, her boyfriend sending a rough demo of her songs to a prospective manager who interests Island Records and the recording and release of Frank, her moderately successful debut album. It comes as no surprise that Amy is on the lippy side, displeased when advisers suggest she stop playing guitar on stage and concentrate on her singing and bristling, too, at being managed by the same company that handles The Spice Girls, for whom she harbours a haughty disdain. Such is her frustration at a meeting to address these issues that she walks out and heads for the pub where, in what is by far the film’s most riveting scene, she meets Blake whose courtship dance rivals that of those exotic birds we see angling to mate in David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes. 

        On the positive side, Blake introduces Amy to The Shangri-Las, thus influencing her beehive hairstyle, lovingly created by nan Cynthia, but he’s also responsible for leading her astray which in turn explains the three year delay between Frank and Back To Black. This is largely due to Amy’s mind being elsewhere during their pub crawling and drug abuse, and here we see them cavorting in some familiar locations, Ronnie Scott’s in Soho and Camden’s Dublin Castle and Good Mixer among them. It’s a troubled relationship, with Blake more inclined to walk than Amy, and when he tells her he wants to return to his former girlfriend she’s heartbroken, pouring her sorrow into the songs that became Back In Black. The death from cancer of her beloved nan only adds to her melancholy.  

        When the record’s a hit Blake returns. The idea that he’s after her money, as suggested by an odious friend, is dismissed and although things are still a bit rocky, they marry in Florida, much to Mitch’s disapproval. Soon after Blake is imprisoned for assault but while he’s inside he cleans up his act and opts to end it with Amy who’s broken hearted for a second time. With pressure mounting on her to concentrate on her career and the paparazzi on her heels, dad Mitch persuades her to go into rehab but no sooner is she off the booze than she buys that lovely house in Camden Square where she succumbs to the vodka bottle, this time with fatal results. We are left to assume it was all a terrible accident. 

        As Amy, Marisa Abela is in every scene, never off the screen, whether she is singing on stage or in the studio, and her impersonation of Amy’s vocals are uncanny. She captures Amy’s slightly hesitant stage mannerisms to perfection and also looks, wears make-up and dresses like her. Most of the songs we associate with Amy are included in the soundtrack though unless I missed it I never heard ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ which is surprising considering how the relationship with Blake takes centre stage. Perhaps more importantly, she offers us a side of Amy Winehouse for which I was unprepared: a London girl who sang so well it overwhelmed her yet more than anything wanted simply to find a boy who loved her and would give her a family of her own, just like the one we saw in that opening scene.   

        Recommended. 


7.5.24

KEITH MOON BECOMES A GREAT GRANDFATHER


My friend Mandy De Wolf, Keith Moon’s daughter, tells me that she has become a grandmother, which means that her father has, in absentia, become a great grandfather. “Our daughter Sam and her boyfriend Nate welcomed lovely little Zoe on October 3, 2023,” she writes. As far as I am aware, Zoe is the first great granddaughter offspring from The Who. I think she has her great grandfathers eyes. 

        Mandy and I have stayed in touch since our aborted plan for her to write a memoir about her life. When it became clear to us that book publishers weren’t interested in our proposed book, in 2019 I posted my synopsis of the book – Moon Girl: My Life In The Shadow Of Rock’s Wildest Star – on Just Backdated, and to date it has received 34,600 hits, making it the second most read post on the blog. This is the link: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html

        Mandy also drew my attention to this podcast in which she is interviewed about her life on Billy Brew Radio. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?extid=CL-UNK-UNK-UNK-IOS_GK0T-GK1C&mibextid=w8EBqM&v=544275519750261

    [Unfortunately I cannot seem to transfer live links onto my blog but they work if you copy and paste - CC]




3.5.24

DUANE EDDY – Melody Maker, October 10, 1973


Duane Eddy, who had died aged 86, was the first great solo guitar hero of the rock’n’roll era. Arriving a couple of years before Hank Marvin in The Shadows and Bob Bogle in The Ventures, Duane was the first instrumentalist to motivate young rock’n’roll guitarists in the UK, among them 14-year-old John Entwistle who always cited Duane’s twangy style as his first inspiration. 

        “Clocking the American guitarist Duane Eddy’s propulsive ‘Ramod’ single on Radio Luxembourg, Entwistle became an instant convert,” writes Paul Rees in The Ox, his authorised Entwistle biog. “By rote, he learned the sax parts to Eddy’s 1958 album Have Guitar Will Travel.” Later, Rees explains how John sought to emulate Duane Eddy’s trademark ‘twangy’ sound in the bass solo on The Who’s ‘My Generation’. 

        Duane’s records, alongside those by Elvis, Buddy and the Everly Brothers, were among the first I ever owned, and my favourite was ‘Because They’re Young’, a more melodic slice of twang that I always thought Joe Meek had in mind when he wrote ‘Telstar’ for The Tornados. 

        I got to meet Duane when I interviewed him in Los Angeles in September, 1973. He was one of those strong silent types, as I recall, a no-nonsense guy, a man who thought carefully before he spoke, a gentle giant. A loquacious interviewee, he reminded me a bit of the character James Coburn plays in The Magnificent Seven. 

There was no specific reason for interviewing Duane Eddy. He wasn’t about to release a new record or play a concert. I somehow knew he lived and worked in LA – as a music publisher as it happened – and thought he’d be an interesting subject. In the same week I interviewed Iggy Pop, quite the opposite in every way, and the two interviews appeared side by side in Melody Maker – “Los Angeles Report by Chris Charlesworth”! – issue dated October 10, 1973. Here, word for word, is my piece about Duane. 

The first real guitar superstar of the rock and roll age sits in an office no larger than a bathroom on North Vine off the Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a music publishing office and he’s there to listen to songs, to cast his experienced eye over good and bad, and reject or accept according to their worth.

There’s a stand-up piano behind his crammed desk, a tape player to his right and, apart from some papers, little else. There are no gold records on the wall, none of the plush furnishings you come to expect in music business offices and no indication that the man behind the desk was voted top guitarist in the world year after year during the late fifties and early fifties. His name isn’t even on the door.

His name is Duane Eddy, and his rumbling, twangy guitar blasted out of every juke box in the land 12 years ago. Just what contribution he made to worldwide sales of the instrument is incalculable; how many budding guitarists he influenced is anyone’s guess. 

His hits, in case you don’t remember, included ‘Rebel Rouser’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’ and ‘Because They’re Young’. They were all on the London/American label, the outlet that spawned so many of his contemporaries and accounted for a high percentage of my record collection in pre-Beatle days. 

Duane was casualty of the Liverpool boom. After The Beatles, his records stopped selling and now he’s more involved with publishing and production, although he plays concerts occasionally and plans a working trip to Britain in the near future. He has fond memories of the UK and hopes to be playing in Britain before the end of the year.

Stretched out on the swivel chair behind his desk, he talks slowly and knowledgeably with the air of a man who’s seen everything, summed it all up and formed unshakeable opinions. He’s a big guy whose firm wrist greets my handshake and a smile escapes his lips only when something is genuinely funny. The greased quiff from the fifties has been replaced by a shortish Beatle-cut and he’s wearing a short but tidy beard.

His last project, about which he’s most excited, is the production of an album by Phil Everly, who’s a close friend from way back. He’s made no recent records of his own, though he did play on the Phil Everly sessions, and it’s more than two years since he stopped performing regularly. 

“The records stopped selling and that had a lot to do with my decision to stop recording,” he drawls with a wry smile. “There was nothing exciting happening for me. There was a lot of acid rock and that’s not my type of thing. What I was doing wasn’t of any interest to anybody but me and the few people involved. Now things are changing around and acid rock doesn’t seem as popular as it was. People want the old records and they might just want some new records by the old people, as they’re getting tired of hearing the same stuff again and again. I’d prefer to do some new stuff in the same style but more updated.”

Duane notched up eight gold records and a few British silver ones during his heyday. It all started in a studio in Phoenix, Arizona, when Lee Hazlewood, the producer and a long time friend, decided to make some instrumental records. Hazlewood knew Duane played guitar and brought him in to make a record called ‘Moving And Grooving’ which was released by a small Philadelphia label called Jamie Records. It made the fifties in the charts and encouraged Duane to go back into the studio and make ‘Rebel Rouser’.

“We did the Dick Clark Show playing ‘Moving And Grooving’ and ‘Rebel Rouser’ but we had to find a number to finish with. One of the guys in the group, Al Casey, had written a song called ‘Ramrod’ and we did that. The show was on Saturday night. One the Monday morning we had 100,000 orders for the record. We went back in and produced it very quickly.

“That was a hit and they all followed on after that. Then there was ‘Cannonball’, ‘Detour’, ‘The Lonely Ones’, ‘Some Kind Of Earthquake’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’, ‘Because They’re Young’, ‘Guitar Man’, ‘Peter Gunn’. It’s quite a list and I can’t think of them all.

“I toured from the time ‘Rebel Rouser’ came out – 1958 – until the time The Beatles got very big in 1964.  It was frantic all the time, just like Beatlemania expect that it was rock-mania. The crowds in the US were very vocal, screaming and everything, and it was a real surprise when I played in London for the first time. I got up and did my show and half way through there was dead silence. They were actually listening and there was polite applause after every song. We thought we were doing very poorly until the end of the show when we discovered how wrong we were. They were stamping and yelling for ten minutes and pulling the place apart.”

In 1964, he says, England had her revenge on America. “When I was touring England about 80 per cent of the charts were American records. In 1964, when I did another tour, the charts were reversed. I was pleased for them. It was only fair. The American had had their own way for too long.”

So, Duane came off the road and rested after six years of hard work. He made the odd album and played the odd concert anywhere in the world, wherever and whenever he felt like it. He tried acting in a couple of Westerns, did a few TV shows and took things easy. Hard rock, with its accompanying drug scene, was the final blow. 

With a kind of father-like concern, Duane has much respect for today’s guitarists. He still considers he was the best guitarist in his day – in his particular field.

“I believe I won one of those polls not too long ago, just a few years ago, when I shouldn’t have,” he says, grinning. “There was a lot of good guitarists around in those days, but I had the hit records and my name was the best known. I certainly think I was the best guitarist at the time, but it depends on how you judge it. What I did on guitar nobody else could do as well, but it becomes a very subjective thing. I can’t play one lick of classical music. Segovia is the man I would consider the best in that field, but there are several others that other people might choose.

“Chet Atkins* is probably the best all-round guitarist in the world. When you get into the jazz field there’s Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery and countless others, and there’s no way to measure who’s better than another. When you get among the best in any field, they can all do the job,

“I had a lot of imitators, who could probably do some things better than I could, but instead of doing those things they tried to copy me. They were coming in on my terms and they got nowhere. I remember The Shadows, who were an excellent group, and they didn’t try to imitate me, and The Ventures who were also an excellent group. They’re still going, selling thousands of albums.”

Duane has much respect for Eric Clapton. “The guitar solo he did on George Harrison’s ‘Something’ was one of the finest guitar solos I have heard anywhere. [He was wrong there. George played it but I didn’t wish to correct him – CC.] But Cream did not impress me at all. They were just a jazz trio with the volume turned up full blast so you had to stand 20 feet away to even begin to hear what they were playing. I know a lot of guys who just jam and I felt that’s what they were doing basically. 

“I guess Clapton has gone the same way I did, tired of doing the same things over and over again. Once you have established a great sound and great style, you find it difficult to know what to do next. He probably just enjoys playing for himself now.

“I miss doing the shows and that’s why I’m hoping this visit to England is going to come off. There’s the nostalgia thing going now, and the kids don’t even remember the records I made. I believe I could make it for a second time if I put my mind to it. I don’t want to sound conceited but if I really concentrated on it I could do it again. I’m torn between record producing and concerts, and while I still like to play a concert once in a while I need to find something more challenging.”

Today Duane still plays his guitar “two or three times a week” for his own amusement. He’s been playing nylon stringed guitar to develop his technique, but he still cherishes the old Guild that the firm made for him and which he was pictured playing countless times. “I have between 18 and 20 guitars at home, all different types. I don’t say I play them every day but I’ll play with some young singer/songwriter to help him along. I’ve never been a singer myself. I tried but it didn’t work too well.”

Duane has lived in Los Angeles for the past eight years, although he was born 35 years ago in Arizona, where it all started for him. He has stayed away from the rock and roll revival shows that are being promoted in the States this year, partly because he wants to do something new, and partly because he feels the old rock and rollers are being exploited by promoters.

“I don’t think there’s any harm in the rock and roll revival shows but there are people making a lot of money out of it right now, just the same as before. They are hiring these groups for two bob a night, as you’d say in England, getting them out there to do their old hits and packing in 20,000 people to see them. They make 60 or 80 thousand from a concert which has cost them five to ten thousand to put on. The ones I’ve done I’ve been well paid for. I didn’t really do it for the money but for the fun of the whole thing.

“I’ve been waiting for something new to be started by the old people but it hasn’t happened yet. I think rock and roll is a type of music, like country or blues or jazz, that will assume a place for itself for ever more. One day they will have a rock and roll chart like they have country or soul charts, or easy listening charts. I think this will happen over the next year or two. When rock and roll started they said it wouldn’t last, but it’s 1973 now.”


* I interviewed Chet Atkins while I was in LA too, again for no specific reason besides wanting to talk to him and thinking MM’s readers might be interested in reading about him. That interview appeared in the November 24, 1973 edition


30.4.24

HAVE YOU GOT IT YET: The Story Of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (Sky Arts)

Among the strangest episodes in the strange saga of Syd Barrett was his unexpected, unexplained arrival at Abbey Road Studios while Pink Floyd, the group he once led, was recording Wish You Were Here during June, 1975. He wasn’t recognised, not at first anyway. Some thought he might be an EMI technician or even a cleaner, others someone who’d wandered in off the street and somehow evaded security on the door. When he was eventually identified, the members of the group were stunned into silence and, by all accounts, Roger Waters began to cry.

        Until I watched this 105-minute documentary on Sky Arts over the weekend, I’d seen no visual evidence of Syd’s visit to Abbey Road. With a sense of timing that defies rationality, it occurred just as Messrs Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason were in the midst of recording ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, the lengthiest track on WYWH, written by them as an opaque tribute to the man without whom Pink Floyd would not have existed. It turns out, however, that Phil Taylor, the PF roadie responsible for David Gilmour’s guitars, had a camera with him that day and took a couple of photos of Syd sat on an easy chair in the control room, both of which are seen in this documentary. I thought it was a scoop and I was nearly right. I’m now informed by a PF expert, however, that one of these photos appeared in Nick Mason’s 2004 memoir Inside Out, but the PF drummer has always refused permission for them to be used elsewhere, which explains why I was seeing them here for the first time. 

        Well, I’m not surprised no one recognised Syd. Overweight, his hair balding at the front and cropped at the back, he was wearing a white polo shirt with hooped brown stripes and looked more like a no-nonsense bouncer outside a dodgy nightclub than the man who once sang, played guitar and composed for Pink Floyd. “He was fat and bald,” says my friend Glen Colson who at the time worked for PF manager Steve O’Rourke and also happened to swing by Abbey Road that day. 

“Dave looked at me and said, ‘Do you know who that is?’” says Nick Mason in the documentary. “I said no. He said, ‘That’s Syd’.”

“He hadn’t been seen for six years,” says Storm Thorgerson, the documentary’s co-director and Hipgnosis designer largely responsible for PF’s more surreal LP sleeves. “He asked if he could help,” adds Storm with a bemused grin. 

By all accounts, the studio engineer, Brian Humphries, played an extract from the closing section of ‘Shine On…’ in which keyboard player Rick Wright briefly incorporates the melody of ‘See Emily Play’, the Barrett-composed song that in 1967 became PF’s first hit. Syd failed to recognise it. 

The presence of Storm Thorgerson in Have You Got It Yet discloses its age. The film was in the works when Storm died in 2013, and in the meantime many of those interviewed have also passed on, among them my old friend photographer Mick Rock, all of which gives it a rather dated, almost nostalgic, feel. It is, nevertheless, the last word we’re ever likely to have on the man whom many consider to have been PF’s “founding genius”, and it certainly didn’t warrant the somewhat mean-spirited review I read in Sunday’s Observer that drew a gratuitous and slightly cynical parallel with Spinal Tap

Lots of those who knew Syd are interviewed, including the three surviving members of PF, many friends from Cambridge, some contemporary admirers and several former girlfriends, all of whom are as lovely today as they were when they fell for his boyish charms. Also interviewed is Syd’s sister Rosemary who cared for him in later years and, in her down-to-earth, decidedly un-Sydlike manner, seems rather bemused at the fuss surrounding her famous brother. Almost all of them take the view that Syd simply fell out of love with being a pop star and that his intake of drugs, principally LSD, merely accelerated his withdrawal from a music scene he was beginning to detest anyway. Others, not in the film, have told me that Syd enjoyed “acting mad” in front of people with whom he did not wish to interact, just so they would go away. “Then one day he actually turned mad,” said one. 

Syd’s music, fragile, whimsical, minimalist and out of kilter with just about everything else that was happening in 1970 when his two solo LPs were released, provides much of the soundtrack. Strikingly unusual, it signposts the way Syd’s mind was heading after Pink Floyd, with replacement Gilmour, opted simply not to bother collecting him on the way to gigs. A few later live shows petered out in farcical circumstances, the final one with a group he called Stars at Cambridge Corn Exchange in February 1972 that inspired my Melody Maker colleague Roy Hollingworth to write what I believe he thought was a sympathetic, albeit truthful, account of what he saw. When Syd read it he evidently thought otherwise and drew the curtains on his musical career that same day, at least according to the film’s voiceover. Roy, who loved Syd’s music, would have been mortified had he known, which I don’t think he ever did. 

The only flaw in Have You Got It Yet – its title inspired by a ‘song’ that Syd attempted to teach his bandmates, only to keep changing its chord sequence, so they’d never get it – was the inclusion of scenes wherein actors of different ages imagine themselves as Syd strolling through forests, green fields and doing weird things like diving into an empty swimming pool. Included presumably to emphasise the surreal nature of the subject matter, these scenes were unnecessary. I have always taken the view that the strangeness of Syd’s story speaks for itself, without embellishment. 


29.4.24

PHIL OCHS, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, April 1974.

Fifty years ago this week, as Melody Maker’s man in New York, I was at the Avery Fisher Hall to review a concert by Phil Ochs, whose LA apartment I’d rented for three months the previous year. This unusual situation, about which I’ve written at some length in my forthcoming memoir, offered me a unique insight into Phil’s world, instilling in me a warm feeling towards him and his music that lingers to this day. 

    I saw more concerts than I can possibly remember while I lived in New York, and the week I saw Phil I also reviewed shows by Captain Beefheart and The New Riders, all of which can be found on the Caught In The Act pages in MM dated April 27, 1974. I saw Phil perform only twice, this concert and another in New York’s Central Park in the summer of 1975. Here’s what appeared in MM 50 years ago this week. 

The day of the protest singer is not quite over, even if his warnings were ignored in the sixties, and artists like Phil Ochs will always have a platform on which to air their leftist views and criticism of the current US administration.

Ochs gave a sell-out show at the Avery Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Centre last week and was a resounding success. He was an original New York protest/folkie when Dylan walked the streets of Greenwich Village and this alone gives him an authority that more recent protesters will never have.

Each song was linked with the kind of rap that could have him deported, but the audience lapped it up. His most damning statement – that Kennedy’s killing really was a right wing plot by the establishment – struck home harder than most of his musical offerings. 

Ochs is a shabby, portly fellow with short hair and gold rimmed glasses. He looks like an unkempt, underpaid college professor. His guitar, which he doesn’t play well, is old and battered and the strings buzz at certain frets. There’s strong chance he hasn’t re-strung it in many a year.

Looking, then, as if he’d just walked in off the street after an hour’s busking on the subway, Ochs delivered a series of songs in which the lyrics mattered far more than the vocal or musical attributes of the performer. Hard hitting lines were applauded in mid-song and there was a respectful silence so that his messages could get through. 

He’s written some pretty tunes too. He opened with his charming song about singing bells, and followed that up with a trilogy of songs written by artists who had all spent time in jail and written about the experience. ‘There But For Fortune’, his own song, was the highlight. 

Och’s protest songs sound awfully dated in 1974, however. ‘I’m Gonna Say It Now’ and ‘Outside A Small Circle of Friends’, for example, are both songs in which couplets at the end of each verse are repeated, rather like ’Blowin’ In The Wind’, in fact, and written to encourage a group of singers or the audience in a club to join in at the appropriate moment. This was all the rage 12 years ago but appears a bit dated today. 

The gold lamé jacket* appeared for an encore but there was none of the rock and roll Phil performed at the controversial Carnegie Hall concert two years ago. His voice has deepened as a result of an attack with intent to rob during his recent stay in Africa. He was nearly strangled, apparently, and lucky to escape with his life. 

Had he not escaped, the US would have lost an outspoken but sincere critic. After the show he invited one and all backstage to discuss his views, and several hundred accepted the offer.


* This was probably the same gold lamé suit that I tried on one day while I lived in Phils flat in LA. It was far too big for me - but it might fit me now. 


24.4.24

KING MOD: The Story of Peter Meaden, The Who and the Birth of a British Subculture by Steve Turner

In July of 1963 Peter Meaden returned to the UK from a sojourn in Spain to discover that his erstwhile friend and sometimes business partner Andrew Oldham had become the manager of The Rolling Stones, a group rapidly in the ascendant in the wake of The Beatles. He wasn’t pleased. Although nothing had been formally agreed, Peter believed that any enterprise in which Oldham was involved would involve him too, but there was no role for him in the management of the Stones. 

“Peter took his revenge by having 2,000 stickers made up offering the sexual services of an experienced madam,” writes Steve Turner in King Mod, his biography/appreciation of the man who turned The Who into High Numbers, “with Andrew’s business phone as the contact number, and posting them in central London public conveniences. This successfully tied up the office phone for three weeks.”

This is but one of many entertaining yarns in this unusual book. The first 133 pages of King Mod comprise a well-researched, eminently readable and heavily illustrated biography of Meaden, opening with his birth in 1941 and covering his entire life, with and without The Who, up to his death by his own hand in 1978. The next 80 pages are given over to an unabridged transcription of the series of notable interviews that Turner conducted with Meaden, beginning in May, 1975, initially for A Decade Of The Who, a songbook with additional editorial features published in 1977, though the interviews that appeared therein were drastically reduced. Further extracts from it were subsequently published in NME, then in A Sharper Word, an anthology of Mod writing that came out in 1999, and six years later in an NME Originals magazine on Mod. 

        The heart of the book, the interviews with Meaden, reveal him to be as garrulous as he was fascinating, and in King Mod they are published in their wild and wonderful entirety for the first time. They emphasise not just Meaden’s utter dedication to the Mod cause – and impeccable taste in all things Mod – but his chaotic nature, his inability to focus, how his enthusiasm invariably trumps reality. Extensive footnotes help make sense of it all, not least because some of what Meaden says seems well OTT to me – like 50,000 fans trying to get into a Who gig in Brighton in 1964?  

Of all the characters that fell under The Who’s spell in the early sixties, none paid a higher price for their devotion than Meaden, King Mod to his admirers. You can read about him in the early pages of Who biographies, that period when under his influence they called themselves The High Numbers and recorded ‘I’m The Face’, their very first single, but after that he more or less disappears from the picture, ousted by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp who gave him £500 to go away. The truth is he probably never had a written agreement to manage them anyway. He simply ‘advised’ them after an introduction via his hairdresser. He certainly wasn’t a businessman, as the book makes clear. But The Who, and Pete Townshend in particular, never forgot Meaden’s early contribution to their image and, along with later manager Bill Curbishley, did their best to help him in the mid-seventies, by which time drugs, notably LSD, had taken their toll on his already fragile psyche. 

It’s an Icarus-like tale. Like a few other enlightened pioneers of the post-war generation, Meaden escaped his provincial, deathly colourless, family life but flew too close to the sun in his quest to discover its converse, influencing the zeitgeist as he travelled yet somehow losing the plot when confronted with everyday life. 

        The book closes with a heartfelt postscript that places Meaden’s accomplishments, such as they were, in context, not just in his lifetime but how Mod continues to influence popular music. The interview, Turner believes – and I agree with him – is a significant cultural document. “It gives an unprecedented look into the mind of a man who was the most influential mod in the early-to-mid Sixties,” he writes, “and who managed for the first time to forge a link between important British youth subculture and what was to become a major rock band.” 

        Essential reading if you really want to understand where The Who came from. And, by the way, Oldham must have forgiven him for that telephone number prank as he’s contributed a foreword to King Mod